Iranian statements against the United States and the administration of President Donald Trump are rising, in exchange for the escalation measures taken by the administration in pressuring Iran to bow to US demands. Trump said the pressure on Iran was the biggest ever. The United States recently designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, in the first action of its kind, in the classification of part of the armed forces of a state as a terrorist group. Washington has also decided to cancel the exceptions given to countries to buy Iranian oil, in order to prevent Iran from exporting oil completely. Other sanctions were added to the mining sector, the second in the Iranian economy after oil. The situation has become difficult for the Iranian regime, which is facing economic difficulties and popular discontent.
Iran has pursued a defiant policy, given a deadline for European states to deal with it, otherwise it will withdraw from the nuclear deal that Trump has withdrawn from, while Europe remains committed to it. The Iranian deadline was immediately rejected, but the United States has expressed concern about another measure taken by Iran , that it has given the green light to its associated groups in the Middle East to attack US interests. As a result America has entered a military and political warning. The US Fifth Fleet based in the Arabian Gulf announced a high alert, warning all American civilian ships that they could be targeted by Iran, and military reinforcements were sent to the area, most notably the giant aircraft carrier SS Abraham Lincoln. But all these measures are defensive and ready to respond to any attack, not preparations to start a war or a major blow to Iran so far. America is not aiming to start a war with Iran. More importantly, the Trump administration, despite its massive escalation of pressure on Iran, it does not aim to overthrow the Iranian regime, but to restrict it. Even Trump said at the height of the crisis a few days ago, he wants to be contacted by Iranian leaders to negotiate, and this is the only way to save Iran from its great economic difficulties. But he added, surprisingly, that he wants Iran to be strong and great! The Iranian responses were clear in rejecting Trump’s offer to negotiate, but in politics everything is possible and secret contacts may exist now with all this escalation.
The Iraqi arena is very important in the Iranian-American confrontation. Foreign Minister Pompeo canceled a visit to Germany and went to Baghdad. And his talks include defensive demands, that is to obtain an Iraqi commitment to protect US forces in Iraq from any attack by Iraqi groups associated with Iran. He used the term protection. Therefore, this is not talking about American pressure on Iraq to take America’s side in any military confrontation that might happen .Pompeo briefed Iraqi officials on Iran’s guidance to those associated with it to attack US interests, and then returned home passing to Britain, the closest US ally, and its partner in any war.
The situation is inflamed in the region. But there is no media mobilization in Washington for a war with Iran. The American strategy is to escalate economic pressure so that Tehran will bow to Trump and sign an agreement according to its terms. It may differ more or less from the nuclear agreement signed by the administration of his predecessor Obama and Trump withdrew from it. But America will not start a military strike; it is only increasing its readiness to respond.
However, General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force through his own channels, leaked an Israeli intelligence information Mossad, which in its turn leaked to the CIA about his meeting ( regular and repeated meetings)) with leaders of Iraqi factions described as loyal or allied to Iran within his plan to make division between the US administration’s hard-line war wing and President Donald Trump.
Sulaymani has extensive personal relations with various actors in regional conflict by virtue of his position as a leader of the Revolutionary Guard and his work in the strategic files related to the Iranian national security, especially in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, he also met with prominent leaders in the popular crowd during their presence in Ahwaz governorate to provide relief to the Iranians when exposed to floods. ” special” information was leaked about the scenes of the meeting in which Sulaimani aims to push the hardline team within the US administration into immediate action and push for escalation with Iran as specific Iraqi groups would kidnap US diplomats, officers and soldiers and thus threaten US interests in Iraq. This is what the hard-line American team, Pompeo and Bolton Brian Hawk, is looking for, the reason for the war against Iran, as Trump was told that Sulaimani has told the leaders of the Iraqi factions that they should prepare for the war, this meeting will be a reason to raise the levels and degrees of threat to US forces and military bases in Iraq to the maximum extent .
What Soleimani wanted was to increase the gap and divergence of views on the Iranian issue and ways to resolve it between the US president, who aspires to a second presidential term and his hardliners who want to escalate and change the Islamic Republic’s regime through a scenario of war and to move the Iranian interior .So far, the disparity has surfaced when a senior administration official familiar with Trump’s talks with national security adviser John Bolton and Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo was quoted as saying that Trump was furious all week over what he saw as a war plan that went beyond his ideas which don’t go beyond the limits of pressure sanctions and military mobilizations and avoid being dragged into a military confrontation and this as referred to by New York Times Thursday by saying , that President Donald Trump had told Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Chanahan that he did not want to go to war with Iran.
Throughout the week, the US president, in his remarks and the moves of the Defense Ministry as if he were above the tree, could not get off even when his Foreign Minister Pompeo met with his Russian counterpart in Sushi and his vague references where Moscow was not reassured about Trump intentions towards the Iranian issue. Trump’s Republicans, who control the majority of seats in the Senate, are not happy with this situation and they have been in critical situation in front of their Democratic rivals on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, and preparations are underway in Congress for Trump officials to make secret statements about the situation with Iran. Lawmakers from both parties have asked for more information. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Danford and Acting Defense Minister Patrick Chanahan will attend Tuesday’s hearing before the entire Senate, an embarrassment to Trump in front of supporters and opponents, as members of Congress complain weeks ago that Trump’s management did not inform them with sufficient information about the current escalation with Iran, even some Republicans say the administration did not show them anything on that issue. The question arises in this context: Is the US heading for war with Iran? There are two stories competing for the answer to this question. The first story, favored by the administration of President Donald Trump, is based on the fact that Iran has bad intentions and that there are preparations for a possible attack on US targets, although the details disclosed are few, and pushed US to send military reinforcements to the region, and the US is working to reduce the number of its non-essential diplomatic staff in Iraq and is reconsidering its war plans.
The message to Tehran is clear: any attack on an American target from any source, whether Iran or any of its many allies or proxies in the region, will be met with a huge military response. The other story blames Washington in this crisis. It is not surprising that Iran will stick to this story, but many who criticize the Trump administration’s way of thinking from interior prefer it too. But a number of major European Trump allies have concerns about this, but to varying degrees.
According to this story, the “hawks” in the US administration, such as US National Security Adviser John Bolton or Secretary Minister Mike Pompeo, see this as an appropriate opportunity. This story shows that the goal of those hawks is to change the regime in Tehran, and if the extreme degrees of economic pressure don’t succeed in doing so, they believe that military action is not ruled out according to circumstances.
These two stories reflect different interpretations of the truth. As is often the case, each works to highlight certain facts and to ignore others to prove that they are the correct ones. But perceptions here are as important as truth, and in many ways to be the reason to reach the truth.
That fact is that a conflict between the United States and Iran , even it was just a coincidence rather than something that has already been prepared , is more likely now than ever since Trump took over the presidency of the United States. The Middle East is certainly witnessing a rise in tensions. Iran is working to tackle this, although its economy is suffering from the re-imposition of sanctions that were lifted under a nuclear deal signed in 2015 with world powers. Iran has threatened that it will no longer abide by any restrictions on its nuclear activity.
Trump came to power is a turning point. He withdrew from the nuclear deal a year ago and worked to exert maximum pressure on the Iranian government.
However, Iran is fed up with this pressure, and it is working hard to push the Europeans to do more to help its deteriorated economy threatening that if they do not do so, and it is difficult to know what they can do, it will violate the terms of the nuclear agreement. This will give Trump a further reason to take an offensive stance. The situation now depends on the moves taking place within the Trump administration and on Tehran’s assessment of what is happening there.
The president himself has sought to underestimate the idea that officials in his administration are divided over the Iran issue. Reports indicated that Trump is not very enthusiastic about the war. He is known for his opposition to military conflicts abroad. But it is not likely that he will back down if its forces or installations are attacked. But Tehran does not have to look at things this way. Does Iran see that it can spoil the relationship between Bolton and his boss, heightening tension between the two parties, prompting Bolton to reveal his plans, which may hasten his fall? If that is Tehran’s assessment, it will be a strategy of high risk.
While Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two most important allies of the US administration in the region, are welcoming this step , but the administration’s partners in Europe are uncomfortable about what will happen. Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have taken steps to stop any military activities In the Middle East, in partnership with the Americans, due to rising tensions in the region.
This is not the time to see how the conflict between the United States and Iran will be. Moreover, comparing this conflict to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 will not be useful. Iran is a different example from the situation in Iraq under the rule of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The idea of a full-scale invasion on Iran would not be among the options as a military conflict could arise by air and sea, which Iran’s way in dealing with will be different , which would ignite the region as a whole.
There were those who predicted a major foreign policy disaster with Donald Trump taking over as president of the United States. Instead, there is an ongoing multidimensional crisis involving a number of elements, all illustrated by Iran’s situation: there is a state of disdain for international conventions, excessive reliance on regional allies with their own plans to pursue, tensions with old NATO partners and, above all, the inability to resolve the decision and set priorities for Washington’s real strategic interests. With renewed competition among the superpowers, where the United States seeks to redirect the deployment of its forces and strengthen its capabilities facing the rise of China and the boldness of Russia, where is Iran standing now within priorities for Washington ‘s strategy ? Is the Iranian threat really worth fighting a major conflict? Many strategic analysts will reply by rejection . Many also accept that the idea of containing Tehran with strong retaliatory measures may be necessary in the event of its attack on US interests, but the sound of drums of war are not as necessary.
The war between Washington and Tehran remains excluded, especially as there are regional and international parties that have hastened to mediate in trying to drag the parties to the negotiating table and the direct dialogue that Trump wants and insists on. Tehran rejects it and does not close the door to it for sure on real legitimate demands and not on the terms of the UN Security Council resolution No. 2231 (2015), the last international resolution on the Iranian nuclear issue and provided to support of the nuclear agreement and lifting sanctions in relation to Iran’s nuclear program.
Although Khamenei has rejected direct negotiations with the current Trump administration because he has vetoed the nuclear deal and can not be trusted again, and is betting on his failure in the upcoming elections, he does not mind absolutely to maintain the ball rolling , perhaps Trump calculates it with (trader mentality) and therefore comply with Resolution 2231 and dismisses his national security adviser John Bolton, who deals with Iran as a member of the Iranian Mojahedin –eKhalq organization (People’s Mujahedin Organization ), the opposition accused since the Shah of terrorist acts against America itself, and consistent with the international consensus, especially the European pro-nuclear agreement, and to work with the Islamic Republic in regional and International files that were supposed to be opened with it after the conclusion of the nuclear agreement.
When Trump comes down from the tree, especially since the consensus in the leadership within Iran is not to give the hardliners the pretext to wage war on their country, Tehran will remain in the nuclear agreement and will not withdraw from it and will not achieve the desire of the team that pushed the US president to withdraw from it and incite him to attack Iran?
When the Supreme National Security Council, headed by the Iranian president, reinforces the internal front, Rohani begins the first steps of unity among the political factions in the country to overcome the circumstances he said , that are perhaps more difficult than the situation during the war with Iraq in the 1980s ?!
In summary, there are certain cases that accelerate the resort of the United States of America the use of military force against Iran, namely: Iran’s production of nuclear weapons, and Iran’s closure of the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers, targeting the US forces deployed in Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, these cases combined or alone may hasten to resort to a military option against Iran. Except that, all outstanding problems between the two countries can be resolved through diplomacy, direct diplomacy, third-party diplomacy or hotline diplomacy.
Iranian Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies